One of my Special Olympics Athletes, Bonnie, died last week in her sleep. I was so sad when I got the call because she was so sweet and I'm tired of people dying. I went to the service last night (the official Catholic funeral is going on right now but obviously I'm not there because I'm here writing) and I'm glad I went even though it was difficult. I had never actually been to a funeral home before and I didn't really know what to expect. The family was so sweet and very happy that I had come. I went with the intention of sharing some stories about Bonnie that maybe the family didn't know and telling them what a sweet, kind and special person she was. I left feeling like they had given me something instead. Every person in the room, despite the enormity of their loss, made a point of thanking me for working with Special Olympics. I felt a bit bad until I realized that obviously they wantedto thank me. I had given thought to what the program means to the athletes but to be honest I had never considered it from the perspective of their families. Obviously it means more to them than I realized.
Bonnie has two special needs brothers who were both there last night. I went into the viewing room and one of the brothers John came with me. As we stood there over the body of his dead sister he started to cry and said to me, "Bonnie likes puzzles. She won't be doing any more puzzles." "No, she won't." I replied. "Bonnie is never going to go bowling again." he continued. I guess that's the strange thing about death. It means something different to everyone but it never hurts any less.
Seeing her body was a weird experience for me. It was the first time I had ever really seen a dead body (except for the time I failed miserably at CPR but he was newly dead and I was too exhausted to really stop and look at him) and it was strange. I have become insanely addicted to "Six Feet Under" as of late and they do a lot of embalming on that show. It's a really strange idea I think. There was Bonnie, only it wasn't Bonnie, and she had been stuffed and sewn and glued. For what? Apparently, for a lot of people, it is psychologically healthy to be able to see the body before it is buried so they can fully understand that the person is gone. Me, I would rather keep their living image in my head than be face to face with the remnants of what is left after death. Again, it's all a very personal thing and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it.
I said all the right things when I was there, "She's in a better place." "Yes, you're right, she was an angel." "That's a good way to think of it...her father and her are together now." It made me want to bite off my own tongue because I don't believe a word of it. But who the hell am I to take away the comfort those beliefs obviously bring them? I may be an atheist but I'm not a sadist.